Leaders maintain appearance of unity as more divisions appear in the Republican party.
Infighting in the Republican Party primaries reached a new level a week ago.
The Senate Republicans’ Leadership Fund, a political action committee that finances Republican candidates for Senate, set up a website masquerading as the campaign site for Senate candidate Monte Akers, a Republican from Hillsboro.
The fake site, monteakers.com, contains a press release implying that Akers advocates raising taxes. The release quotes a Hillsboro Signal article about Akers' support for a bond measure to fund Hillsboro public schools.
On the official site, the Akers' campaign says he recognizes, "how the tax burden impacts Oregon’s small and family businesses."
Monteakers.com was paid for with money donated to the Leadership Fund by Republican voters.
In an apparent attempt at irony, the site’s “donate” link sends users to the Oregon Department of Revenue payments page.
Aker’s challenger for the Senate seat, Alexander Flores, has earned the endorsement of Republican Senate minority leader Jackie Winters and has spoken out against Senate Bill 1528, which eliminates some tax breaks for small businesses.
A screenshot from the fake Monte Akers website paid for by The Leadership Fund
Jonathan Lockwood, a spokesperson for gubernatorial candidate Greg Wooldridge who also consults for the Akers campaign, said monteakers.com represented a new low.
“Senate Republicans are getting dangerously close to identify theft to trash a candidate that has a long list of support from others in the party,” Lockwood said. “Donors should ask: is this what our money is going to?”
A former spokesman for the Senate Republican caucus, Lockwood worked for the Buehler campaign and now represents gubernatorial challenger, Greg Wooldridge.
Lockwood has a reputation for striking blindly — and hard — at opponents. This time he seems to have hit something solid.
Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University, called the fake website ploy “extremely unusual” behavior for the Leadership Fund, which typically stays on the sidelines of primary election battles.
Setting up fake candidate pages, he says, is not a common practice.
The site reveals a zero tolerance policy in the Republican leadership for raising taxes, Moore says.
It wasn't always so, according to Moore. In the 1980s, he says, Republican Governor Vic Atiyeh proposed a concept similar to Measure 97's plan to tax large businesses.
Now any hint of raising taxes—like Akers' support for additional school funding — draws the Republican leadership's ire. “This shows that Republican orthodoxy in Oregon will not tolerate any taxes," says Moore, who is writing a book about Atiyeh.
“The Senate Republicans are getting dangerously close to identify theft to trash a candidate that has a long list of support from others in the party,” Lockwood said. “Donors should ask: Is this what our money is going to?”
Lockwood views the site as symptomatic of Republican disunity, which has handicapped the party's chances at the governorship.
“In this state where you’re a minority I would expect their to be a lot more camaraderie,” says Lockwood, who describes himself as a “gay city slicker” from Denver. “In Colorado Republicans talk shit about each other, but at the end of the day they’re on the same side. It’s just not as cohesive here for some reason.”
“There is a lot more that unites us than divides us,” Buehler says. “The one that unifies more is the clear need for a new Governor.”
Republicans behind the Leadership Fund beg to differ. Evan Ridley, the fund’s political director, says there’s no broad pattern of infighting, and that instead, “it’s all sort of local and specific to individual states and districts.” The fake site, in other words, represents politics as usual.
A member of the Leadership Fund, Sen. Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario), says, “I haven’t seen any great big wedge issues that are driving people apart.”
Other Republicans tout the party's overarching goal.
“There is a lot more that unites us than divides us,” gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler says. “The one that unifies more is the clear need for a new Governor.”
Wooldridge agrees. Rural and urban, radical and moderate — Republicans are united in their distrust of Kate Brown. “She doesn’t consider the welfare of all Oregonians," he says.
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Lockwood warns that if Republicans don't rein in the bickering they will continue relegating themselves to being the minority party. “Republicans aren’t losing elections just because Democrats are the all-star team,” he says. “Part of the reason is because you have a lot of infighting on the Republican side.”
Another large fissure opened up a few days ago. The newly formed Oregon Business & Industry fired CEO Mark Johnson, a former Republican legislator from Hood River, citing accusations of mismanagement and racially charged language.
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